Another devastating blow hit the Nigerian Art Community a few days after the New Year, when on January 18th, 2017; the lifeless body of Ben Osaghae was discovered at his Egbeda home. It came as a shock for all that witty, comical Ben, popularly called Master by his colleagues was no more!
The fine details surrounding his demise are still uncertain, but the 54 year old artist was apparently alone at the time of his last conscious moments –faced down on his bed. Ben was more than a friend and brother to many, thus arrangements were made speedily to convey his remains to his hometown in Edo state where he was interred in a matter of a few days. The event was a sad one attended by a handful of his artist-colleagues and family.
‘That cannot be all’ was the general refrain within the art community, so two months after his passing, precisely on March 30th, 2017, a worthy tribute, organized by the Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFA), was held in his honour at the National Museum, Onikan Lagos. It was well attended by dignitaries, artists, his family and friends. Special guests at the event included HRM Nnameka Achebe -the Obi of Onitsha, Chief Ede Dafinone, Jess Castellote, Kavita Chellarams, Julianna Edewor, Rahman Akar, and Dapo Adeniyi of the Position Magazine –all who played a key role in the development of the artist and shared tear-evoking tales of their past with the audience. Other personages at the event were Dr Kunle Filani, the famous Yaba Tech artist and retired lecturer Kolade Oshinowo, gallery administrators, curators and approximately the entire troupe of the GFA.
The event was far from sad and was a colourful one where dignitaries reminisced on how they met Ben and what made him special. Jess Castellote reflected on what led to the only publication on Ben, co-authored by himself and I, titled OSAGHAE; Visual Chronicles of a Society in Flux. Ms Edewor and the Signature Gallery owner; Rahman Akar spoke well of the trying beginnings of Ben and how they encouraged and promoted him. The tribute ended with wise words from the Royal King of Onitsha who advised that some form of intervention fund should be established to aid ailing artists and those who may have the need in the art world. These talks were spiced by a showcase of his oeuvre that I have documented over time. Though I was prepared to say a few words, as were many others, the event was brought to an official close after two hours, and the guests present were ushered into the courtyard of the National Museum for a session of informal bonding, photography and refreshments.
Ben Osaghae (1962 -2017) lived a full productive life and his works will continue to highlight the struggles and challenges of life -especially city life. Click on the images below to see a comprehensive chronology of Osaghae’s life.
Below is the transcript of the speech I prepared for the eve of tribute.
TO GOOD OL’ BEN
I’d like to thank everyone who is a part of this community or anyone who has said a kind word or shared a condolence message over the past weeks since we lost dear old Ben. Your kind words, conversations and other positive gestures have kept many of us going and helped us cope better with the sudden loss and grief.
To some, Ben was a brother, a teacher; many fondly nicknamed him The Master, and to others, he was an associate, a neighbour, an artist, a creator; an author who strove to point out the ills he observed around him, in a bid to make our world better.
I have managed the portfolio of many artists and others within my budding career in this sector, but I can say none touched me in the way Osaghae did. I was recommended to him, at a time when he wanted to expand the appeal for his works to the international stage. I started off by building and managing his online gallery and in a short while, the relationship progressed from a professional one to a more personal type. I spent numerous hours with him, interviewing him on many subjects, we both criticised and analysed his works, while sharing a bottle of wine… or three and I’d like to think it was him and not the wine, but Ben had that remarkable gift of taking a seemingly mundane issue and dissecting it at length in a manner in which most times we’d both discover we were late for whatever engagements we had planned for after our time together.
He was a brilliant artist whose style was to paint or draw things he wanted to call attention to and this he did methodically –it gave rise to many of the series we associate with him today, like the ecclesiastical series, transportation series, incarceration series, etc. With the joint effort and support of others, I have documented about 650 artworks signed by him. This might not seem like much for an artist whose career spanned three decades, or to others who churn out works daily, but for an artist who seldom repeated himself and who had such a critical illness as he harboured, I think it is remarkable!
My collaborations with Ben was largely based on evolving a medium for projecting his works to a wider audience. This was what led to the establishment of his online gallery and also the book on his oeuvre –OSAGHAE; Visual Chronicles of a Society in Flux, co-authored by myself and Jess Castellote. For me, all my interactions with him were personally fulfilling experiences and it is a solemn vow I am willing to enter into, that I will continue to project his works to the world.
Ben Osaghae, in the flesh is gone, but he lives on through us and his creations.
I dedicate the following adaptation of the poem by May Fenn to my dear friend and brother, Ben Osaghae.
Death is not the end,
For love goes on.
And we find the evidence,
Here after you’re gone.
The flowers that you planted,
Will blossom without end.
We will find you in their beauty,
As to their needs we tend.
The time we spent together,
The laughter in the our memories,
Will continue to give pleasure,
To us throughout the ages.
The bond that grew between us
Will not abate with time,
It will go on for forever,
For you, we will always remember.
So we will not mourn your demise.
As you have not yet left us.
We will always find you boldly,
In you artworks so golden.